Our new study finds lead in the tap water of 79 percent of homes tested.
What it means for babies’ health: Lead permanently reduces children’s learning ability. Babies who drink formula made with tap water get a higher dose of lead, pound for pound, than any other family member. Black babies get the biggest lead dose of all - they are twice as likely to receive only formula and no breastmilk compared to white babies.
Why tap water contains lead: 6 to 10 million homes nationwide have old lead water pipes. Many more have fixtures and solder that leach lead into water.
Are levels too high to be safe? 40 percent of homes have lead above the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommended limit for children. There is no known safe level of lead exposure.
What parents can do: Parents can filter their tap water. This is especially important if pregnant women, infants and young children are drinking it. Testing is a good idea, too. HBBF offers at-cost test kits in partnership with Virginia Tech. See more tips below.
Test Your Tap Water for Lead
HBBF offers at-cost test kits in partnership with Virginia Tech. Each kit includes 3 samples to pinpoint the lead source and a customized report with simple steps that reduce lead levels and protect infants and other vulnerable family members.
Protect yourself and your family from toxic lead in tap water with this simple test kit. We will:
Send you a test kit and return mailer to send your water back to the lab.
Provide you with detailed results based on high quality laboratory analysis at Virginia Tech.
Give you a clear set of customized actions you can take to reduce exposure for you and your family.
Your water utility may offer free tests. Make sure their test includes at least 2 sample bottles for lead. One-sample tests can miss lead sources in pipes further from your faucet.
How The Lead-in-Water Test Works
Collect 3 Tap Water Samples
Your kit will include step-by-step instructions to collect three tap water samples from your home in just a few minutes. If lead is found, the test can pinpoint the source so we can provide you customized solutions.
Send Us Your Water Samples
Use the prepaid return shipping label and the box included with your kit to send your samples back to water testing experts at Virginia Tech. Sampling and laboratory analysis follow EPA protocols for lead in water testing.
Act on Your Water Results
You can expect your results by email within 30 days. Your results will tell you whether there is lead in your water and, if so, what steps you can take to reduce your family's risks of exposure.
Intense lead poisoning causes severe symptoms – from cramps and vomiting to weight loss and fatigue – but is quite rare in the U.S. Much more common is the less visible damage from smaller exposures, and in those cases, there usually are no symptoms. Lead damages the developing brain, is harmful in any amount, and is most damaging for children exposed in utero and early childhood. Children who are exposed to lead can face lifelong impacts, including reduced intelligence and behavior problems.
If you think your child has been exposed to lead, contact your child’s health care provider. Usually there are no symptoms, so a simple blood test is required to know if the lead level is high. Many states require that all children be tested for lead, regardless of whether or not parents suspect an exposure. If levels are high, your child’s doctor can recommend treatment, and your local health department may be able to help you track down the sources in your home.
Lead paint is usually an important part of the problem, but lead in tap water is a common, hidden source and is often overlooked in investigations of lead poisoning. Testing your tap water is important especially if your child has been diagnosed with lead poisoning.
For more information about the lead in your home, contact your state’s lead poisoning prevention program or one of the many non-governmental organizations across the country that work to reduce children’s exposures to lead.
Lead is most damaging during pregnancy and the first few years of life, when it can disrupt brain development and lead to lifelong learning and behavior problems, including reduced IQ. Poor nutrition – including low iron and calcium – can increase the damage. No amount of lead exposure, at any age or any level, is considered safe. Lead should be avoided at all stages of life, but especially during the highly vulnerable first thousand days for a baby.
Water is usually nearly lead-free when it leaves the water treatment plant but can pick up the toxic metal from water pipes and fixtures.
Older homes in older cities are particularly at risk for lead in water. But even newer homes can have a lead problem. EPA reduced allowable lead levels in city water, pipes and home plumbing in 1986 and 1991. Even stricter limits went into effect in 2014, but health advocates are calling for still lower levels. Sources of lead in your home water may include:
- Lead service lines: Up to 10 million older homes and buildings nationwide have lead lines leading to the main water pipe. In older cities, the utility’s main water pipes and meters may also contain lead.
- Lead solder: In many older homes, lead solder connects copper water pipes.
- Faucets: Most faucets are made of leaded brass, which can leach lead into your water.
The only way to know if you have high lead in your water is to test. You can purchase a kit. Your test results will come with a customized action report that includes simple steps to reduce your exposures.
It's especially important to test your water for lead when:
- You are planning a pregnancy or are newly pregnant.
- You plan to begin using water to make infant formula.
- There is road or pipe work on your block, or if you make changes to your plumbing. This can dislodge lead from pipes and valves.
- Your utility has changed its water source or treatment process. Read your water bill inserts and yearly water quality report to learn when this happens.
- During summer. Warmer water can pull more lead from pipes.
It’s important to drink plenty of water, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. Most homes in the U.S. have very low levels of lead. But until you get your test results and know for sure, you can follow the steps below that EPA and other health agencies have recommended for extra protection from exposure.
Flush your water before you use it
The longer your water sits in home pipes without running, the more lead it can pick up. Any time water has been sitting for several hours, you should run it to flush the lead out before you drink it or use it for cooking. EPA has recommended:
In most homes, flushing for 30 to 45 seconds is sufficient to clear out water that has picked up lead from your pipes and fixtures. Usually the water will feel colder when your home pipes are fully flushed.
If you have a lead service line (see steps below to find out), flushing water for 3-5 minutes has been recommended. In most homes, this clears out the water not only from the pipes inside your home, but also from the service pipe between your home and the road. Good ways to flush your water without simply running it down the drain include outdoor watering, flushing the toilet, or running a dishwasher or clothes washing machine.
Never drink discolored water, or water with solid particles. This can be a sign of high lead levels.
Use a water filter
Many families also use a home water filter to reduce exposures. These can be especially helpful if you have a lead service line (see below), or non-plastic pipes installed before 1986, when EPA established lead standards for home plumbing.
Use NSF International’s “Certified Product Listings for Lead Reduction” Guide to find a filter that is NSF/ANSI 53 certified. Pitcher filters and carbon filters that attach to the end of the faucet are among the most affordable types. Maintain your filter at least as often as is recommended by the manufacturer to keep it effective.
Check if your service line is made of lead
If your house was built before 1986, you may have a lead pipe (a “lead service line”) running into your home from your neighborhood’s main water pipe.
A service line normally comes through a wall of your home, and then connects to the rest of your home plumbing.
Lead service lines are a dull gray color and very soft. Check if your pipe is made of lead by carefully scratching with a key. If the pipe is lead, the scratch mark will be bright silver. Do not use a knife or other sharp tool and take care not to puncture the pipe. Wash the key off when you are finished.
If you have a lead service line, contact your water utility to learn if there is a plan to replace it. If your water has not been used for several hours, flush it thoroughly before using it for drinking or cooking, as described above. Consider using a home water filter for additional protection.
A lead service line does not guarantee high lead levels in your water, but is a risk factor. Your city may use a water source that is not corrosive, and not likely to leach lead from your pipes. Your water utility may also have a solid anti-corrosion program in place. But levels of lead can spike if your water utility changes its water source, alters its treatment chemicals, or drops its corrosion control program, as has now happened in Flint, Michigan and several other cities in recent years.
Some bottled water is nothing more than tap water. If you’re switching to bottled water to avoid high lead levels in your tap water, check the brand’s online water quality report (if available). Make sure that lead levels are below the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended limit of 1 part per billion (1 ppb, 1 ug/L, 0.001 mg/L, or 0.001 ppm).
You won’t know without testing. As in a home, lead can leach from pipes and fixtures in childcare facilities; older buildings are at higher risk. The parts and pipes in drinking fountains are a common source of lead.
A 2018 government study found that only 43 percent of school systems test their water for lead, and 37 percent find elevated levels. Talk to your child’s childcare provider, center director, or school official to learn if water at each tap or fountain your child might drink from has been tested.
Unlike lead in water – a hidden problem only now coming into national view – the problem of lead paint as a cause of childhood lead poisoning has been recognized for decades. Families living in homes built before 1978, when lead paint was taken off the market, are at risk.
Health agencies recommend keeping paint in good repair so that it doesn’t flake, build up in house dust, and stick to children’s hands. Also recommended: keep children away from bare soil near older homes and roads, where both house paint and past use of leaded gasoline have left contaminated soil. Read more about steps to reduce lead exposures from U.S. EPA.
But in many homes, lead sources include more than just paint, water and soil. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a diverse list of common items that can add to the body burden of lead in children:
- Imported candies, toys, toy jewelry, cosmetics and ceramics;
- A variety of consumer products, including tea kettles and vinyl miniblinds;
- Traditional home health remedies such as azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach in the Hispanic community.
Each home has its own, unique “fingerprint” of lead sources – in water, soil, paint, and household items – that contribute to a child’s total exposure. Check your home for these items and make sure to protect your children from unexpected sources.
Scientists have detected hundreds of industrial chemicals and pesticides in umbilical cord blood and breast milk. We are all exposed to contaminants in food, water, air and products we use every day. HBBF's Safe Product Guide helps you find safer products and take steps to reduce exposures.
HBBF’s many partner organizations also have terrific resources online to help you protect your family from exposures to harmful chemicals. We encourage you to explore their websites and learn more about what they do and the resources they provide.
Some low-cost lead in water test kits are available online or in stores and some water utilities or local health departments also offer test kits for lead in water. We recommend that you test your water for lead whether you use the test kit offered on this website or a different kit that provides detailed information about the levels of lead in your drinking water.
Different from other lead tests, our kit, designed by HBBF and Virginia Tech, provides detailed results and customized action steps on what to do about your results. Our goal is to help you take effective actions to reduce exposures after receiving your results. Your test results will come with a clear list of steps you can take to protect your family.
By using this kit you are also participating in a collaborative, crowd-sourced research project on water quality that can influence national policy, helping HBBF, our partner organizations, and Virginia Tech in their work to ensure safe drinking water for everyone.
This Lead in Water Test Kit is unique in four ways:
- Your samples are analyzed by Dr. Marc Edward’s laboratory at Virginia Tech, the group that uncovered lead contamination in Flint, Michigan and Washington, DC.
- With your test results you receive a customized report with concrete actions you can take to reduce exposures for you and your family.
- The kit includes 3 water samples, to help target actions that can best reduce exposures for your particular situation.
- You are part of a collaborative research project that will help strengthen drinking water safety policies nationally.
But no matter which kit you use, we recommend that you test your water, especially if you live in a home built before 1986.